Review: The Storied Life of A.J.Fikry

The Storied Life of A.J. FikryThe Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry
By Gabrielle Zevin

Reviewed by Jay Gilbertson

If you like protagonists who like books about book-lovers who also happen to be booksellers who are a little persnickety and very sad and somewhat lost in the beginning and then, over time and many life-altering changes, become nearly lovable, pay attention!
Author Zevin proves early on that she is one very well-read woman by weaving into her story clever book title references and interesting writer tidbits I found impressive. Her authorial empathy for a plucky middle-aged man (Fikry) with an enormous chip on his skinny shoulder gave the story compelling turns and there is one surprise twist I did not see coming, make that two.
Before you even begin reading the actual ‘meat’ of this novel, each chapter begins with a brief short story review that at the start seemed kind of odd, but eventually made total sense. The first one is a review of the famous short story, ‘Lamb to the Slaughter’ by Ronald Dahl. You eventually learn the reviewer is the star of the book, Fikry himself. These clever inserts not only share his philosophical viewpoints, but act as a brief summation of what is to come.
As with any retail sales environment, there exists the middle world of sales reps eager to offer their wares and in this case that is one person in particular; Amelia Loman.
“She is thirty-one years old and she thinks she should have met someone by now. And yet…Amelia the bright-sider believes it is better to be alone than to be with someone who doesn’t share your sensibilities and interests. (It is, right?)”
And here is a taste of what Fikry himself is like;
“Like?” he repeats with distaste. “How about I tell you what I don’t like? I do not like postmodernism, post-apocalyptic settings, postmortem narrators, or magic realism. I rarely respond to supposedly clever formal devices, multiple fonts, pictures where they shouldn’t be—basically gimmicks of any kind. I find literary fiction about the Holocaust or any other major world tragedy to be distasteful—nonfiction only, please. I do not like genre mash-ups a la the literary detective novel of the literary fantasy. Literary should be literary, and genre should be genre, and crossbreeding rarely results in anything satisfying. I do not like children’s books, especially ones with orphans, and I prefer not to clutter my shelves with young adult. I do not like…”
Though he doth complain, he eventually sees someone he could love and, more importantly, someone who can love him with all his torn pages and abrupt segues. The story almost entirely takes place on a fictional island off Massachusetts called, Alice Island, and it is there that Island Books bookstore becomes the center stage for this story to unfold. This book has it all; tragedy, romance, comedy and mystery and most of all it has soul.
The only moment I felt author Zevin pushed the sentimental envelope to the edge was when a small baby was left behind in the poorly stocked Children’s and Young Adult section of Island Books. Can we say, “tired author trick?” But, this miniature bundle of pamper-filling joy left behind by her soon-to-be-dead mother holds the key to Fikry’s broken heart and will certainly change yours.
“We are not quite novels. We are not quite short stories. In the end, we are collected works.”

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